Jews and Romans alike used palm branches in processions. In the Gospel of John we read of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, “They took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out: ‘Hosanna!’” Christians used palms to honor martyrs and put images of palms on sarcophagi. Christ and the apostles were often shown standing among palm branches.
The church’s liturgical commemoration of Palm Sunday dates to the 4th century. Before the postconciliar liturgical reform, the Roman Catholic Church kept Passion Sunday on the 5th Sunday of Lent, with Palm Sunday following, a week before Easter Sunday. Since the 1969 calendar reform, the 5th Sunday of Lent is simply identified as such, with “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion” following. The lengthy Passion account is read as the Gospel reading on Palm Sunday, with the accounts from Matthew, Mark, and Luke read in successive years the reformed three-year lectionary.
Palms are grown for church supply firms in Florida, Texas, and California in the U.S. The palms blessed on Palm Sunday are burned and used as the ashes for Ash Wednesday the following year.
Palm Sunday is sometimes called “Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem” in Orthodox churches, one of the Twelve Great Feasts of the liturgical year. On the day before Palm Sunday, Lazarus Saturday, oftentimes believers prepare palm fronds on crosses to prepare for the procession. The paraments and vestments are gold in Greek tradition, green, in Slavic tradition. The Roman rite used the liturgical color violet before the reform; now it uses red.
Featured image: Palm Sunday worship leaflet cover, Br. Alan Reed OSB, Saint John’s Abbey.